Bulldogs seek second Final Four in three years
The offseason was good to Gonzaga, which has won a staggering 69 games over the last two seasons. First, rising junior forwards Rui Hachimura and Killian Tillie opted to return to school, and then — in July — coveted North Dakota grad transfer Geno Crandall signed with the Zags.
Expectations will be even higher than usual. Gonzaga could eclipse the 2006 team, ranked No. 8, for the program’s highest rating in the AP preseason poll.
At a Glance
HEAD COACH: Mark Few
2017-18 RECORD (WCC): 32-5 (17–1)
2017-18 POSTSEASON: NCAA: Lost to Florida State 75-60 in the Sweet 16
G Silas Melson (9.3 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 2.2 apg)
F Johnathan Williams (13.4 ppg, 8.5 rpg)
Gonzaga features one of the nation’s finest frontcourts. The three headliners are Hachimura, Tillie and Brandon Clarke, who sat out last season after transferring from San Jose State.
Hachimura was one of the country’s most productive per-minute players. He averaged a team-leading 12.9 points in conference play despite ranking sixth in minutes played (21.7 per game). His game could reach another level if he adds shooting range. He made only five 3-pointers last season, but he’s been a capable perimeter shooter on Japanese national teams. Tillie made nearly 48 percent of his 3-pointers and has a soft touch around the rim. He’s sneaky athletic, and an offseason of adding muscle should enhance his ability to operate inside and on the boards.
“We have a lot of potential,” Tillie says. “We’re going to have to work and get all the pieces together to have a great team.”
Clarke has worked to develop his game over the last year after posting huge numbers as a sophomore at San Jose State (17.3 ppg, 8.7 rpg, school-record 77 blocks). The bouncy 6'8" forward does most of his damage in the lane, but he’s worked to expand his game to the perimeter.
“He jumps faster and higher than any human being I’ve been around,” guard Josh Perkins says. “Exciting player to watch.”
Backups include 6'11" sophomore center Jacob Larsen, senior forward Jeremy Jones and promising 6'10" freshman Filip Petrusev, a one-time University of Hartford commitment who played for prep power Montverde (Fla.) Academy.
With 108 career starts on his resume, Perkins is one of the country’s most experienced point guards. He led the team in minutes played last season despite dealing with a shoulder injury. He had surgery in April and is expected to be ready for his senior season. The Colorado native is a quality perimeter shooter (39 percent from 3 in his career). He took on a bigger scoring load last season but could return to a pass-first approach with GU’s firepower.
“If we have [Perkins] at 100 percent, it’s going to be a great year,” Tillie says.
Zach Norvell Jr. led Gonzaga in clutch baskets last season by a wide margin. The 6'5" wing, nicknamed “Microwave” by his teammates because of his ability to provide instant offense, is the Zags’ most versatile scorer, capable of hitting 3s (77 last year) and operating off the bounce. The lefthander from Chicago has improved defensively, and he’s an underrated passer.
Corey Kispert lost his starting job to Norvell after suffering an ankle injury, but the sophomore wing is a valuable contributor with his size (6'6", 215) and shooting and rebounding ability.
Crandall, who picked Gonzaga over Minnesota and Xavier, adds much-needed experience (90 career starts), scoring (14.3 ppg) and ball handling (4.0 apg). Other backcourt options are incoming freshman Greg Foster Jr. and redshirt freshman Joel Ayayi.
Gonzaga’s core is outstanding. The Zags have experience, multiple perimeter threats and versatile bigs. If they can stay healthy and navigate a schedule that is stacked in the first two months, they should be in the mix for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament and a spot in the Final Four for the second time in three years.
Postseason Prediction: Final Four
WCC Prediction: 1st